Trip Report: P_M's Turkey Trot

Feb 22nd, 2009, 03:27 PM
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Trip Report: P_M's Turkey Trot

Hello all,

I would like to share with you my very fine trip to Turkey. In keeping with tradition I made a silly audio trailer to promote my trip report. Here it is:

And here are the pictures:

I was in Turkey from Dec 4 to Dec 16 2008. My husband was unable to travel with me so I joined a Gate 1 Tour. As we all know bus tours have their advantages and disadvantages but when Iím traveling alone I miss the company of others so thatís why I did this tour. Overall I was very pleased with this tour and I do recommend Gate 1. However Turkey is quite doable on your own.

I flew to Istanbul on Air France so I enjoyed good food, free French wine and great service. The flights were reasonably on time and much to my surprise my luggage arrived on time as well. The trip home did not go so smoothly but more about that later.

Upon my arrival I took the Metro to the hotel. It was an easy and cheap process and I am grateful to teatravel for the tip about using the metro. My hotel was the Kent Hotel which is near the Beyazit area. The hotel is OK but nothing special and the location was very good.

By the time I got checked in and had time to freshen up a bit it was already dark. I walked just a few blocks from my hotel to the Beyazit area near the Grand Bazaar. I was still very tired and dizzy from jet lag and although I hadnít eaten dinner yet I didnít have much of an appetite. I bought a small meal from a street vendor for about $2 and it hit the spot. I didnít do much of anything else as I was quite tired so I made it an early night.
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Feb 22nd, 2009, 03:29 PM
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The next day I got up early as I couldnít wait to see Istanbul. I took the tram to the Topkapi Palace, and just outside the palace is where I met my first carpet vendor. He was walking around with a young Canadian lady and a Turkish lady. As it was my first day, I thought this was just a friendly group of people striking up a conversation w/me. I really wanted to see the palace but I didnít want to be rude to these overly-friendly locals, or so I thought. After making small talk he finally starts asking if I need advice on buying a carpet. I told him no, not interested. Then the young Canadian girl starts schmoozing me. I told these people Iím not interested at least 5 times, but I soon discovered that as long as Iím being nice and not too firm they were not going away. It was very frustrating but I finally said forget it, GOODBYE!!

I went into the palace and I was awestruck!! The palace was amazing with a million or more colorful tiles in all sorts of patterns. I rented the audio tour which I highly recommend. They asked me to leave my passport as a deposit but I am not comfortable with that so I offered my driverís license and that was OK. Of course I got it back at the end of the tour. The audio tour was great because it gives all sorts of detail about the palace you will miss if you donít use it. I visited the Harem part of the palace, which is an extra charge. I also recommend this, and if you get the audio guide, be sure to tell them you are going to the harem. In todayís world we would find a harem lifestyle to be appalling yet I still found it fascinating to learn how things were done back then.

I lingered around the palace making sure not to miss anything and I was there for at least 4 hours. During that time I had lunch at the cafť where the food was less than impressive but there was a helluva view of the Bospherous. After the palace I went to the Blue Mosque, which needless to say is another must see in Istanbul.

On my way to the Blue Mosque I met a few more pesky carpet salesmen. I discovered once again that if I am too nice they will not go away. I kept getting mad, but being rude didnít always make them go away either. It seemed like a losing battle.

I went on to visit the underground cistern. It is so strange to go from the hustle and bustle of the city, then suddenly you are walking on catwalks above a peaceful, serene, yet dark underground lake. There were still the Roman-looking columns in the water and lots of big fish. The lighting was dim which I think is appropriate. At the back of the cistern you will find 2 Medusa heads at the base of columns. One Medusa head is sideways and the other is upside down. This design was intentional.

I came out of the cistern and immediately another pesky carpet salesman came slithering out of the woodwork. I tried to ignore him but he kept following me. After a block or 2 he went away.

Now ladies and gentlemen, hereís what I learned on this first day about Turkish carpet salesmen: They always approach by asking where you are from. Wherever you are from, you can bet they have a friend/uncle/aunt/friendís uncleís auntís cousin from your city so they will pretend to have some familiarity with your home town. Then they go on to make even more boring small talk and waste your time. If you speak to them nicely they will not go away. If you speak to them rudely they will not go away. So hereís a fool-proof way to get rid of any salesman in any part of the world: SPEAK PIG LATIN!! OMG, I wish I had thought of that the first time I was approached. Itís hilarious because once I started speaking Pig Latin those salesmen would scurry away like frightened squirrels, saying something like, ďSorry, I donít speak Swedish/German/Spanish/Dutch.Ē LOL!! For the rest of my time in Istanbul I was still approached by at least 10-15 salesmen a day, but it was so much fun scaring them with my Pig Latin, I was wishing that even more of them would bother me!!
P_M is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2009, 03:30 PM
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The next day I visited the Haiga Sophia which was once a Christian church, then a mosque and now itís a museum. Back when it was a Christian church they had beautiful mosaics of the Holy Family. But once it became a mosque those were plastered over as Muslims do not believe in icons of people or animals in a place of worship. But now that itís no longer a mosque they have carefully pulled off the plaster to reveal some of the beautiful Christian mosaics which were hidden for so many centuries. Of course there is also all sorts of beautiful Islamic art as well. Just for the heck of it I re-visited the Blue Mosque, then I spent the rest of the afternoon window shopping at the Grand Bazaar and just soaking in the sights before meeting my group later that night.

When I met with my group I was disappointed that everyone was American. Of course I have nothing against Americans as I am one, but I enjoy meeting and getting to know people from all over the world. But evidently Gate 1 does not do much marketing outside the US/Canada. But thatís OK, I like Americans too and I made some very nice friends in the NY area.

BTW, a little side note: I already knew Turkey was in both Europe and Asia, mostly in Asia. But I learned on this trip that only 3% of Turkey is in Europe and the rest is in Asia. I think itís kind of curious that Turkey is being considered for membership in the European Union when such a small portion is actually European. At this time Turkey is NOT in the EU and it doesnít look like it will happen in the immediate future. Our guide is of the opinion that Turkey is being stalled because itís a predominately Muslim country, but of course thatís just his opinion.

The next morning we set off on our adventure. We drove to the City of Troy, which was interesting but a bit less impressive than I expected. Of course there was a replica of the big Trojan horse and we all climbed in and got pics. But as far as the ruins go, there just isnít much left. Iím glad I saw it, but if I ever revisit Turkey I will not go out of my way to see this again. We spent the night in Canakkale.
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Feb 22nd, 2009, 03:31 PM
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From there it was on to Kusadasi. I had been there once before back in 2000 when I was on a cruise that made a stop there, so I was quite anxious to see it again. Our hotel was a drop dead gorgeous resort on the sea and our rooms all faced the ocean. I could SO live there!! The next morning we did a tour of Ephesus, which is a Roman city with fantastically preserved ruins. If you ever go to Ephesus be sure to see the Terrace Houses. There is an extra charge but itís worth every penny. The Terrace Houses are well-preserved homes that still have some perfect mosaic floors and painted walls. Itís hard to describe how fine it is to see these houses, so Iíll just say itís a must-see if you visit Ephesus. Back in 2000 when I was there before the Terrace Houses had not yet been excavated so this is a relatively new site. Of course we all got a kick out of seeing the rest of the city and like the silly tourists we were, we sat on the public toilets. (these toilets are not in use, they are there for silly tourist pics) Speaking of toilets for visitors, they are only found just before you enter Ephesus and at the very end. So use these toilets before you enter, even if you think you donít have to go. I did not do that and letís just say I was very tempted to put those ancient toilets to use.

Also that day we visited a home which is believed by some to be the home where the Virgin Mary lived out her life after Jesus died. Of course nobody can say with any certainty if this is true. But the house is in a beautiful place and IMO itís still worth a visit whether you believe itís legit or not. Some will disagree.

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Feb 22nd, 2009, 03:33 PM
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After Kusadasi we went on to visit the ruins at Pergamon which were not as impressive as Ephesus but still well worth a stop. We went on to a town called Pamukkale. Just outside of that town there is a big limestone cliff thatís sort of naturally terraced. The limestone is so white it looks like snow. You can walk on this cliff but you must remove your shoes. Until just a few years ago warm thermal water flowed from the ground onto this cliff, but that warm water stopped due to an earthquake so now they pipe in water. Unfortunately in the month of December the water was ice cold. So between the icy water and being a tenderfoot who hates being barefoot, I was miserable walking on this cliff and I didnít go far. The white cliff of Pamukkale was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing and it turned out to be a disappointment.

Next to the cliff there was an ancient cemetery which was much more interesting. We actually went into some of the tombs and a few silly people laid down. I didnít do that, it just seemed like bad karma.

In Pamukkale we stayed at the Pam Thermal Springs Hotel. Although I was disappointed in the white cliff, I did enjoy this hotel. They had real thermal springs for swimming as well as Turkish baths. They said the mud in the springs makes you look 20 years younger, so of course I slathered it all over me several times. It works--as I am now mistaken for a high school student almost every day. But donít be jealous, it really is a hassle to show ID every time I order a drink. ;-)

From Pamukkale we went to Konya. Konya is a big city but not a lot of tourist sites, I think it was just a stop for the night. While in Konya we went to a nearby mall and found a Wal-Mart type store. That was pretty cool because we bought all sorts of cheap and useful souvenirs. I found some liquid soap and the brand name was Pam (some of you know why I got a kick out of that) so I bought 3 bottles. We stocked up on other odds and ends, but the most memorable moment in that store was when a man brought his 3 children over to meet us. He said they donít meet many Americans in Konya and he wanted to introduce his children to us. At first I thought he was a carpet salesman, but thank God I didnít speak Pig Latin to him because he was a very nice man who was genuinely happy to meet Americans and welcome us to his country. He told his children to practice their English and say something to us. We spoke slowly and clearly so the kids could understand. It was a very sweet moment and one of my favorite memories of this trip.
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Feb 22nd, 2009, 03:36 PM
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The next day we were off to Cappadocia. This was the icing on the cake for me, Iíve wanted to see Cappadocia for so long!! Cappadocia is in the mountains and it has the most unusual terrain youíll ever see. There are these strange rock formations called ďfairy chimneys,Ē that look like giant mushrooms. Some people say they look like phalluses, but of course I didnít see it that way because I donít have a dirty mind. (yeah right) Some fairy chimneys were carved out and people made their homes in these. Also there are cave homes in Cappadocia, and a few are still in use, as well as cave hotels. Sadly we did not stay in a cave hotel as they are fairly expensive. Cappadocia also has an extensive underground city that was used in ancient times by people hiding from their enemies. They had everything you could want in a city right down to ventilation and wine-making facilities. But the bad news is you never see daylight, so I would have come out and let the enemy just shoot me.

But hereís the best part of all: I took a hot air balloon over Cappadocia!! It was magical, just like the balloon ride I had taken a year prior in Egypt. We started just before dawn and it was COLD!! Weíre talking well below freezing. I am a Southern gal and this was tough but Iím so glad I did it. Our balloon sailed all around the fairy chimneys. We could see the one-time homes inside the fairy chimneys, and we could even see frescoes on the wall as we peered in. There were dustings of snow all around the ground which just added to the magic of it all. When it was over we came in for a perfect landing. My feet were frozen and my hands were numb, but I would do it again tomorrow if I could.

Words cannot describe this scene. All I can say is if you ever visit Cappadocia, do not hesitate to do the balloon ride. Itís fairly expensive at $200 for about an hourís ride but worth every penny. You cannot recreate this experience anywhere in the world.
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Feb 22nd, 2009, 03:37 PM
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We went on to Ankara, the capitol of Turkey. We stopped to visit Attaturkís tomb. Our guide had given us a lot of good info about Attaturk and all the great things he did for Turkey. Among other things Attaturk really westernized Turkey. Because of him they use our alphabet. He also believed in equality for women, and although that has not fully been achieved, Attaturk laid the groundwork. Our guide was such an admirer of Attaturk it really made us appreciate seeing his tomb.

We also visited the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara which has thousands of years of history. I donít think I realized that Turkey has artifacts from thousands of years ago before I visited this museum. I do recommend a visit if you are in Ankara.

On our last day we drove back to Istanbul, crossing the big bridge from Asia into Europe. We went on a Bospherous cruise and saw this beautiful city for one last time from the boat. Istanbul looks so good from the land, but even better from a boat. It was the end of a beautiful vacation.

Flights home: SUCKED!! But could have been worse. Long story short, there was a fog delay in Paris, then another fog delay in Houston, so I got back to Austin about 4 hours later than expected. But my luggage decided to take an extended vacation. My luggage had a fun night in Paris, then a lovely night in New York before making itís way back to Austin 2 full days late. And of course someone along the way cut off my TSA lock. But I was not at all surprised my luggage did not travel with me as quite often it goes its own way. This was my 8th incident of delayed luggage. Iím glad I have a sense of adventure but I wish my suitcase did not.

Lasting impressions:
Turkish people (except carpet salesmen) are all warm, welcoming and generally honest. Turkey has scenery and art like no other place in the world. Turkish food is OK but I never completely warmed up to it. However I did like yogurt kebabs as well as the roasted chestnuts I bought from street vendors. I do like the yogurt they put in many dishes. I did not like the complete lack of regulations on cigarette smoking, as every place is smoky. Turkey is not an expensive place to visit and you get a lot for your money in that country. I highly recommend Turkey to everyone.

Thank you for reading.


P_M is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2009, 03:51 PM
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I've been waiting on this report ever since you posted youru pictures! Thanks so much for writing! I did almost this same tour in July, and relived it by reading your report. We share almost all of the same impressions of Turkey, especially about the warm Turkish people. I laughed at your remark about the food; I felt the same way , but thought I would be accused of not being open and adventurous if I admitted it. I am incredibly jealous of your hot air balloon ride, but I think I told you that before. If I ever get back there, I will definitely do that. I'm sure it was an amazing experience. Thanks again!

lucy_d is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2009, 05:14 PM
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Thanks for your reply lucy_d. I'm glad I wasn't alone in my opinion about the food. IMO the yogurt and roasted chestunts were certainly the saving grace.

Turkish coffee was good too.
P_M is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2009, 09:33 PM
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haven't had to chance to read your complete trip report but i wanted to tell you once again how much i love your audio trailers.
abranz is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2009, 10:48 PM
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I've never been to Turkey but your comments about carpet salesmen made me laugh. You have a good sense of humor. Thanks for posting.
LaurenKahn1 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 01:21 AM
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Thank you for sharing! I love your tip about speaking pig Latin, and I am very jealous of your balloon ride. Sounds like a fantastic trip.
orangetravel is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 06:07 AM
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Thanks for the trip report. I'm leaving for Istanbul in less than 3 weeks. Thanks for the pointer on pig latin, I was trying to learn a few Turkish phrases but perhaps I should concentrate on pig latin instead.
isabel is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 06:39 AM
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Really enjoyed trotting around with you, Pam - love your
writing style.

We're going there for a month this Fall so I was especially
interested in your report - sad about the calcium waterfall
b/c that was one of the places I really wanted to see. O
well, day late and a lira short....and I'll be saving my
liras to take the balloon ride for sure.

Pig latin - BRILLIANT! Wish my mom were still around -
she was really fluent. I'll start practicing on the
religious door knockers when they come calling.

Thanks for writing this up even though you're going
through such a stressful time right now. Hope all
goes well this week.
immimi is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 03:41 PM
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Thank you all very much, you guys are too cool. It's so much fun posting reports, pics and trailers, I really should take more trips.
P_M is offline  
Feb 25th, 2009, 08:27 AM
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hi p_m,

pictures and your trip report are amazing.
would you like to share your turkey story on
let me know what you think
you can reach me via info [@]
incirus is offline  
Feb 25th, 2009, 10:15 AM
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I enjoyed your trip report very much. I was on an Insight tour in Oct 2007, like you I travelled alone. I was so impressed I would like to take the same trip again with my husband. Also my 2 daughters are very interested. My trip was slightly longer, we aslo stayed in Antalya for 2 nights and saw Perge and Aspendos and the museum. Also we stayed in Bursa and saw the ancient St Sophia church in
Unfortunately, our the weather was very cloudy and foggy for the 2 days in Cappadocia, we never even saw the top of the Cone of Uchisar, so it was intersting to see your photos of the surrounding countryside. In Oct the water was warm in Pammukkale, so I enjoyed wading there.
I spent a day alone in Istanbul and really had no problem with the carpet salesmen, however I never talked to them, just smiled and shook my head or said no.
Did you stay at the Korumar in Kusadasi? I went for a swim in the cove, it was a bit chilly in mid Oct.
MarieLouiseB is offline  
Feb 25th, 2009, 10:29 AM
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Sorry I did not finish the sentence that we saw the St Sophia church in Iznik. I understand the inside is being renovated, it was in quite a dilapidated shape.
MarieLouiseB is offline  
Feb 26th, 2009, 05:57 AM
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Hi MarieLouiseB, we stayed in Kusadasi and I would go there again tomorrow if I could. Gate 1 tours include Antalya in the warm season but not in winter. I'm glad you had warm water in Pamukkale, if I'm ever there again in the warm season I will give it another chance.

I hope you and your family will take this trip.
P_M is offline  
Feb 26th, 2009, 06:03 AM
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P_M....oh my gosh I think I may have ran into the EXACT same guy with the Canadian girl and the Turkish woman! He approached me as we were leaving Topkapi Palace and asked if we were from the US. He said that he lives in Florida but is originally from Turkey and was showing his niece, from Canada, around Istanbul. He then started to tell us about how he sells carpets in the US and that he makes trips to Turkey several times a year to buy carpets and of course the conversation eventually lead to him trying to get us to look at some of his carpets.

I'm enjoying reading the rest of your trip report!

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